1. John Torode’s Malaysian Adventure
Thai food is a common sight on British menus but we’re less familiar with the cuisine of neighbouring Malaysia, which is why John Torode decided to make a cookery show there.
So is the food similar? “It’s completely different!” says the MasterChef judge. “Malaysia is made up of three cultures: the Malays, the Chinese and Indians – and each has kept their identity, including their own religions and ceremonies. Great food is born out of ceremony, especially religious ceremony and feasting, so what you’ve got is these three cultures, all living together, all preparing amazing food.”
George Town, the capital of Penang
Torode will eat and cook his way around the country, from Kuala Lumpur to the tranquil beaches of Langkawi (pictured above) to the rainforests of Sarawak.
So what was his personal favourite? The island of Penang, which was recently crowned the street food capital of Asia. “You can get anything you want off the street and it’ll be absolutely delicious,” says Torode. “Every stallholder specialises: they only cook one dish over and over and over – and because of that it’s always perfect.”
John Torode’s Malaysian Adventure begins on Monday 11th January on Good Food. Read out interview with him here – “The street food is extraordinary”
2. The Silk Road with David Baddiel
Comedian David Baddiel has traversed the Silk Road, the legendary 2,000-year-old trade route, from east to west, for a four-part series on Discovery in February. But as Baddiel finds out, the Road was also an audacious getaway route: in the sixth century two Roman emissaries posing as Christian monks smuggled silk worms out of China in hollow walking sticks on the orders of Byzantine emperor Justinian, who was tired of the exorbitant price of silk.
Baddiel’s 8,000-mile odyssey will take him from China through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and finally to Istanbul. Unlike travellers of old, however, he’ll be using a car, not a camel…
3. Michael Wood is off to China
Later in January historian Michael Wood begins a series tracing the development of Chinese civilisation. He’ll also explore ancient attractions and remote corners, including the ruins of Gaochang, a lost city and oasis in the Gobi desert; the Pearl River, where the last emperor of the Song dynasty came to a watery end; and a farmers’ festival in eastern Zhoukou, where a million pilgrims flock to worship at the shrine of Nuwa, a female goddess.
The Story of China begins on Thursday 21st January on BBC2
4. Rick Stein has his fill in Shanghai
Rick Stein didn’t quite trust his eyes when he arrived in Shanghai to film for a new BBC2 documentary to be shown in February.
“I was overwhelmed. You think of Hong Kong as busy, but Shanghai is a sort of unreal city, really. You get in from the airport and you cannot believe how big it is and how much is going on there,” he says. “There are cranes everywhere and freeways going this way and that – it’s like something out of Metropolis or Blade Runner.”
And the food? “They say in China generally that Shanghai cuisine is very rich and that’s because they put a lot of sugar and oil and soy sauce in it. We had a stir-fry of pigs’ intestines and I was with a really nice Chinese girl who assumed I wouldn’t like it – but I did. I think that’s why you can eat so many different animals there – the flavourings are exquisite.”
To 21st-century tourists, the Palace of Versailles is a monument to monarchy. When it was constructed in the 17th century, it was a symbol of supreme power and wealth. BBC2’s fittingly lavish drama begins in 1667, when ambitious King Louis XIV made the strategic decision to move to Versailles. Much of the drama was shot in the chateau, and a large chunk of the £21 million budget was spent on sumptuous decor and costumes.
6. Maigret’s Paris
Rowan Atkinson is famous as eccentric king of English comedy Mr Bean. Next, in two ITV adaptations, he’ll be donning a pipe and heavy coat and stepping out as one of France’s most famous creations: super-sleuth Maigret.Inspector Jules Maigret (pronounced May-grey) was the invention of Georges Simenon, who was also fond of a pipe and is often credited with being the godfather of the modern detective novel. Between 1931 and 1972 he wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories about Maigret, but Atkinson’s policeman will be sniffing around the seedier quartiers of 1950s Paris.
It was actually filmed in Budapest but expect plenty of terse tête-à-têtes in cafés, shadowy backstreets… and pipes.
7. Tolstoy’s Russia
The BBC last adapted War and Peace for television in 1972, when Anthony Hopkins (sporting an impressive amount of facial hair) played Pierre Bezukhov. Back then, filming in Soviet Russia wasn’t an option, so the epic battle scenes were shot in Yugoslavia, where the 1,000 extras sweated in 35-degree heat in summer and froze during the winter scenes.
This time round, the BBC did decamp to St Petersburg and even filmed inside Catherine Palace (above) – the summer residence of the tsars – and Yusupov Palace, which is most famous for being the scene of the murder of the last tsar’s trusted adviser, Grigori Rasputin, in 1916. You’ll also spy the majestic, mint-green façade of the Winter Palace, which is now the world-famous Hermitage Museum. Of course, nothing of the Moscow of Tolstoy’s tome remains because of the 1812 French invasion that the novel chronicles. So the approach to Moscow in the TV drama is the outskirts of the medieval city of Novgorod, while its handsome white buildings doubled as Voronezh. The rest, including the battle scenes, was filmed in Lithuania and Latvia.
War and Peace is on Sundays on BBC1 at 9pm. Producer Julia Stannard takes us on a behind-the-scenes tour here.
8. Mary Beard is bringing Pompeii back to life
In 2013, the EU pledged 105m euros to restore the 2,000-year-old Roman town. Beard will reveal the findings of CT-scans of body casts to analyse the remains within – as well as unearthing parts of the buried city. And, thanks to CGI, we will see what life was like before Vesuvius erupted in AD79.
See where Billy Connolly, Michael Portillo and Robson Green are off to this year overleaf…